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The recent evolution of The Crab Room in Brisbane is an indication of the developing strength of the community of independent dance artists away from the putative nucleus of the south. Pioneered by Clare Dyson, Rachael Jennings, Brian Lucas and Avril Huddy, The Crab Room exists as an alternative performance and installation venue for artists and also runs contemporary dance classes and workshops.

In May this year, the new space was officially opened with a season of solo works entitled, Tripping on the Left Foot of Belief.
The unprecedented support of Brisbane audiences for this season was an explicit endorsement of The Crab Room project. The democratic, collaborative ethos of the collective encourages the showing of new work, and the second season at the space entitled, Raw, was the materialisation of this spirit of acceptance and openness. Raw presented a series of four-minute encounters with several genres including movement, visual art, circus performance, music, photography and song. The works were united only in their duration, and this promoted a diversity of experiences for the audience.

Various artists released helium balloons from which were suspended delicate wooden cages in Rachael Jennings’ Maybe Even Until I’m Seventy. “Yes, it’s my heart. Somebody left the window open,” was the adage as the balloons drifted across the ceiling and over the heads of two sweepers who brushed away words in sand. The work was both symbolic and ethereal, the images moving with languid charm through the space, with music from Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern augmenting the visual.

The Soup Waltz, a quirky creation from Lisa O’Neill and Christina Koch, departed quite radically from the serenity of Jennings’ work. The two artists experimented with the weight of their bodies: in one section they leaned heavily against each other, legs splayed out from their connected heads and shoulders, as they both attempted an awkward and affected motion—without success. The comic characterisation O’Neill adopted in her previous work, sweet yeti, (see RT7), surfaced again in the incongruous stoicism of The
Soup Waltz.

A more familiar approach to movement was apparent in John Utans’ piece. Loaded—a search for meaning was just that; slide projections containing text and images provided a fragmented narrative for Utans’ choreography. Visual statements such as “You are reading this” made explicit the interaction between performer and audience, and the multiple readings/meanings engendered through performance. Loaded… embraced theatrical elements of performance but did so in a witty, self-referential fashion.

Choreographer Jean Tally created Dance Essay 3: Dis’passion which, despite its political content, read more as personal journey than manifesto. Tally reintroduced voice in this piece, an aspect of performance that she has not explored since her time as co-artistic director of Still Moves in Perth. Tally’s repeated, frantic jumping onto and falling from a stool in a corner of the space gave an increasingly breathless quality to her song. Her adamant voicing of “No!” to female victimisation was supplanted at the end of the piece by the spoken and danced question, “How can I re-embrace ‘Yes’?” The travelling, seemingly celebratory movement language Tally utilised in the final moments lifted the work out of the aggressiveness of the opening section.

The politicisation of the body that Tally investigated contrasted with the pure movement of Jan Russell’s piece, Can you see me?, an exploration of the body in space, and particularly moments of connection between the moving body and light. With an approach to movement informed by the essence of eurhythmy, Russell traversed the performance space and the spotlight in the centre. She moved with a highly developed awareness of her joints and limbs and with an articulation of arm and hand movements that was both refined and sensitive.

Brian Lucas continued to clarify his idiosyncratic, satirical mode of dance theatre in Frightening Livestock, performed two weeks after Raw. This was a more personal exploration for Lucas; an examination of the sexual self which traced a trajectory of identity, marginalisation and affirmation. His fusion of movement and text resists definition; the relationship between the two elements is neither solely disconnected, in juxtaposition, nor symbiotic. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to refer to the movement and text as co-existing in this artist’s work.

Brian Lucas also radiates a very open attitude to his aesthetic: “I’ll grab anything from anywhere if I feel that it actually suits the purpose; any style, or just an everyday movement, or a caricature of an everyday movement,” he says. Popular culture occupies a significant position in his practice. With his ironically sincere quotation of Lionel Ritchie—“Hello, is it me you’re looking for?”—and his appropriation of the Grease soundtrack, in Frightening Livestock, Lucas constructs a complex map of references and associations. With training in both drama and dance, he asserts that he “never really fitted into either category.”

Early October, The Crab Room hosts Done like a Dinner, the logical extension of Raw. This season will present four longer performances from some of the artists involved in the original
Raw. Rachael Jennings will follow with an installation performance work later that month. Despite the jammed schedule, The Crab Room’s fate remains uncertain. The four independent artists who are currently managing the space do so without funding. It’s an ambitious enterprise existing outside the conventional hierarchical company structure—as Dancehouse and Dance Base have proven—but The Crab Room may just succeed against the odds. Brisbane needs it to!

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 36

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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